The Peasant War Print Series (1902–1908)
After the popular success of her A Weavers Uprising print series in 1892, Kollwitz addressed another historic revolt that had been waged not far from her birthplace, Königsberg (now Kaliningrad Russia). The series Der Bauernkrieg (The Peasant War) was a further demonstration of her unflagging commitment to the plight of the oppressed and disempowered. The Peasant War is not only a socio-political pictorial manifesto in which strong female figures are prominently featured, but can also be seen in terms of its connection to the artist’s activism. In this series, based on the peasant war of 1525–26, women are no longer outsiders or simply participants, but provocateurs of revolt.
The series builds a rising tension leading to a final, shattering image of death on the battlefield. The plight of the peasants is presented in a scene of two peasants laboring as animals to pull the plow and in an image of overt abuse and rape. The brooding deliberation of the print depicting a peasant sharpening a scythe climaxes in the explosive Aufruhr (Uprising). This leads to the final print of the series, the dramatic Schlachtfeld (Battlefield). In this affecting print of the aftermath of battle, an aged and hunched-over mother touches and illuminates her fallen son with a lantern on a darkened field strewn with anonymous corpses. This last gesture of affection by a shrouded female figure evokes images of the Angel of Death, a popular Symbolist motif in Kollwitz’s time.
Images: TOP Kӓthe Kollwitz. German, 1867–1945. Beim Denglen (Sharpening a Scythe). 1921. Etching on ivory wove paper. Bequest of Henry L. Seaver: BOTTOM Kӓthe Kollwitz. German, 1867–1945. Losbruch (Outbreak), Plate V from the series Bauernkrieg (Peasant War). 1903. Soft ground etching, textile print and photogravure on paper. Purchased.